Shut out in the entire first half, Capital proceeded to shut down Cabell Midland in the entire second half.
Quisean Gray and Kerry Martin Jr. each ran for third-quarter touchdowns Friday evening as the Cougars rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit for a 20-7 Mountain State Athletic Conference victory at University of Charleston Stadium.
Kalani Hale added a 4-yard return of a blocked punt for another Cougars score in the fourth quarter, Capital’s sixth special teams touchdown of the season.
Capital (5-0) came into the contest first in the SSAC’s Class AAA playoff ratings, while Midland (2-3) was tied for 13th. The top 16 in each class qualify for the postseason.
The Cougars were bottled up in their own end in the first half, starting drives at their 2, 2, 31 and 4. On the possession that began at the 31, they fumbled it away on the first play.
But that started to change in the second half as Capital drove 63 and 43 yards for touchdowns less than seven minutes apart to take a 14-7 lead. Gray scored on a 15-yard burst and Martin tacked on a 6-yard scoring run off a nifty play fake, as three Midland defenders tackled Cougars fullback Kalai Clark, leaving Martin to whisk around right end for the touchdown.
“We just had to calm down and settle down and refocus,’’ Martin said. “I felt like we came into this game too hyped. A lot of things went on this week that we wasn’t too proud of as a team, but we can’t use that as an excuse.
“We’ve got to keep coming out every Friday, and that really starts in practice. We’ve got to come to practice focused. We need a better turnout than this, but I’m glad we got a victory.’’
Hale’s big moment came with Midland punting from its own 22 early in the fourth quarter. He blocked the boot, scooped the ball up himself at the 4 and waltzed in for a touchdown.
Despite the loss, it was an improvement for the Knights from the previous week, when they lost 40-10 at Hurricane. They scrapped the spread formation they’d used almost exclusively this season and went back to their roots with the wing-T formation. Midland didn’t try a pass until halfway into the third quarter and finished 0 of 7 in the air with one interception.
“We tried to run the spread all year,’’ said Knights coach Luke Salmons. “We wanted to change our level, and we’ve been working our butts off, the players, coaches, everybody. But we’re not that team. We know who we are, and we put that [wing-T] in in three days, and it’s going to get better and better and better.
“It takes a while to execute with the timing and everything, but hats off to Capital’s defense. They’re a good team, but we felt like we were going to get back [to basics], and that’s where we’re at. The defense played extremely well, and we gave up some plays but did a pretty good job keeping them in check. We’ve got a good football team, but it’s just like we started all over after last week.’’
Capital’s defense began to stiffen starting in the third quarter, holding the Knights to four straight three-and-outs, then having Karrington Hill intercept a fourth-down pass on Midland’s next possession. The Knights didn’t get a first down in the second half until just 4:46 remained in the game, and that came via penalty. They managed 32 total yards in the second half and ended the game with just 142 yards.
Each team went without key injured players — Midland with defensive lineman Caleb Holbrook (ankle surgery) and Capital without receivers Deishawn Harper and K.J. Figures.
Midland got its 7-0 lead in the second quarter, moving 35 yards to score on Ivan Vaughn’s 1-yard run with 5:33 left to halftime. The Knights punted the Cougars into a hole at their own 2 to get good field position. Vaughn shrugged off a tackle attempt by Breece Hoff and got the ball just over the goal line to score.
Capital’s most promising drive reached the Midland 28 just before the half, but Logan Spurlock just missed a 45-yard field goal.
Vaughn finished with 86 yards on 21 carries for Midland. For Capital, Deshaun James led with 97 yards on 17 carries and Gray added 59 on 10 attempts. Martin was 5 of 13 passing for 55 yards. A 22-yard hookup from Martin to Chance Knox highlighted Capital’s second scoring drive. Spurlock had a sack and three other tackles for loss for Capital.
The Cougars have now won their last four meetings with the Knights and lead the all-time series between the MSAC rivals 19-9.
Next Friday, Capital tangles with another Class AAA unbeaten as Spring Valley (5-0) pays a visit to University of Charleston Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Cabell Midland travels to Riverside next Friday, also at 7:30.